THE DARK ANGEL: Aspects of Victorian Sexuality by Fraser Harrison

THE DARK ANGEL: Aspects of Victorian Sexuality

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Drawing on some of the same sources as Marcus' The Other Victorians (1966), Harrison formulates several intriguing ideas on Victorian sexuality, primarily exploring the tensions imposed on middle-class engagements and marriages--essentially business contracts--but also considering, if less thoroughly and originally, obverse conditions for lower-class couples and prostitutes. ""The penetration of sexuality by money was the factor which determined the character of relationships between middle-class men and women,"" eschewing intimacy in favor of preservation of the patriarchal status quo, the legitimacy of the line. Middle-class women were canonized as both ignorant decorations and spiritual superiors (in sharp contrast to the unlimited energies and base nature expected of female servants, etc.) and this constricted attitude burdened both husband and wife. Toward the end of the century, economic winds shifted and the movement for emancipation--legal revisions, dissemination of birth-control information--altered and enlarged women's options, forcing a change in the character of their relationships. Harrison develops this quite lucidly and finds his evidence in the writings of Patrick Geddes, Havelock Ellis, Grant Allen, and several others as well as the paintings of Frederic Leighton and Philip Wilson Steer. The smaller sections on lower-class sexuality (no privacy, great deprivation) and prostitution (paradoxically, the income often salvaged self-respect) are equally diverting, using Waiter's My Secret Life (that ""lecher's guide to Victorian England""), Acton's Prostitution, lesser known works, even letters to the Times for support. A most suitable complement to The Other Victorians despite some overlapping areas (and the in-common exclusion of homosexuality), and especially valuable for the incorporation of visual material.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Universe Books